Throughout the bulk of the 20th century, the 1960 Gatesville football team was something of an aberration.
Like any other program, there were good teams, mediocre teams and bad teams along the way. However, the 1960 squad took the program — which began in 1909 — farther than it had ever gone and accomplished what took another 40 years to eclipse.
Until that year, a perfect regular season had never happened. It’s why that team as a unit was recently inducted into the Gatesville Sports Hall of Fame along with a stellar group of alumni. The team went in with the 2009 Class 3A state champion boys golf team, multi-sport athlete Bobby Jones from the 1950s, who played football at Tarleton and Midwestern State, athlete Kenny Moore, who won two state 800-meter titles in the mid-1980s before becoming a dual-sport athlete at Tarleton, plus longtime Gatesville junior high coaches Mary Bishop (31 years) and Jack Maxwell (33 years).
When Bob Edwards, one of the central figures of that Hornets team, recalls those days, he doesn’t begin with that season. Rather, he takes it back to fourth grade when his class teacher, Madge Mitchell, wife of long-serving head football coach Lloyd Mitchell, started and coached an elementary football team.
“(Lloyd) got her to coach us and we won all of our games,” recalled Edwards, 79, who was a senior fullback and middle linebacker in 1960. “(In 1960) we felt like we would be good. We had so much camaraderie because we had been together for so long. We had real good team chemistry.”
Mitchell had moved on by the time that class reached high school and the Hornets hadn’t won an outright district title since his 1945 team. By 1960, the Hornets had Al Langford, who arrived in 1958 to replace Arthur Sweet, to change the culture after a 1-8-1 campaign. Langford had been a quarterback at Howard Payne and played in the Canadian Football League.
“Al was completely different,” said Edwards, a Gatesville insurance agent for many years. “His first year we thought we had died and gone to heaven. He was strict, but he was fair.”
Langford’s 1958 and 1959 teams rebounded for respectable 6-3-1 and 7-3 marks after falling to superior Brady teams in district. The West Texan, who had a commendable four-year run at DeLeon, took a cue from legendary Arkansas coach Frank Broyles at coaching school prior to his third season in Gatesville.
“Broyles told him that all you need are three running plays and two pass plays,” Edwards said. “He took that to heart. We ran a pigeon-toed wing offense. We added two more plays later on. We ran a 4-5 defense that year because Brady was running it at the time and was very successful.”
Along with Edwards, the Hornets featured quarterback Joe Carothers, Joe Barton, Jim and John Gooch, Charles Allen, David White, Jackie Roach, Jerry Dawson, Billy Soltow and Edward Schaub.
UIL realignment took Gatesville from west to east for 1960 as the Hornets new district mates in their Class 2A league were Hillsboro, Teague, McGregor, Marlin and Mexia. That well-oiled and conditioned Hornets team swept through those teams as well as its non-district opponents for the first 10-win season in school history.
Who else would the Hornets face in bi-district but their old nemesis Brady, then a powerhouse. The Hornets hadn’t won a playoff game since 1944.
The Hornets prevailed as Carothers kicked a late field goal to dispatch Brady, 16-14.
Just as that was Gateville’s first playoff victory in 16 years, it had never won a regional round game and was up against No. 2-ranked Taylor in Killeen and future Texas A&M rusher Budgie Ford for the opportunity to do so.
Once again, the Hornets held their playoff opponent to 14 points and, once again, Carothers kicked a game-winning field goal to win it 15-14. Carothers kicked just two field goals that season, both resulting in dramatic playoff victories.
The quarterfinal round didn’t prove as successful as the Hornets fell to Bellville, led by future Texas All-American and New York Giants running back Ernie Koy, 41-8, at Austin’s House Park. Gatesville’s season ended at 12-1.
Nevertheless, the Hornets had gone where no previous team had before and for many years didn’t go again. It was another 10 years before the Hornets won a district title and 14 more after that for another.
Langford left Gatesville after that season for Lamesa where he coached a few more years and later became the founding president of Midland College. He died in 2010 at age 83.
Carothers signed with TCU and played a year before switching to Tarleton. Jim Gooch signed and played for Howard Payne. Edwards signed with Texas but opted not to play and transferred to North Texas State instead where he met Barbara, his wife of many years.
Not until 1997, when coach Kiff Hardin took over, did the Hornets have another 10-win season. Two years later, he guided them to an unprecedented four-round playoff run to set the table for the 15-0 Class 3A Division I state title in 2000.
No one was happier to see their win total eclipsed than Edwards and his fellow 1960 Hornets.
“I told Kiff then that I’d been waiting a long, long time for someone to beat our record,” Edwards said. “I’m thankful they could do that.”